UT to install its first living wall

Kate Thackrey

Volunteers will be planting the future on May 16 when UT installs its first living wall on the north side of the architecture building.

The wall has a honeycomb structure with a steel skeleton that will hold plastic hexagonal pods with enough room for plants and their root systems.

The wall will use insertable plastic cells with enough room to hold plant' root systems. 

Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Danelle Briscoe, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture, has led research on the wall for the past five years.

“For the most part, you’re going to be seeing something like a honeycomb wall that happens to have a plant system to it,” Briscoe said.

She said she hopes that the wall will make students think more about alternative ways to take care of the planet.

“Hopefully, it will let people see that when you talk about architecture, it doesn’t have to mean concrete,” Briscoe said. “This is a material that we can start to engage with as architects.”

Michelle Bright, an environmental designer at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, said she used native plants from all over Texas for the wall pods.

“We’re really lucky because here in Austin, we’re close to a bunch of eco-regions where we’re close to a lot of hardy plants,” Bright said. “We often take cues from the landscape around us and plants that can handle extreme conditions.”

Many plants work with others to survive, so Bright said she made pods that group species together according to how they grow in nature.

Bright said that volunteers will assemble the pods at the center next week and will work with student groups to install the pods on May 16.

Michelle Bright, Frederick Steiner and Danelle Briscoe worked together to design and build the living wall over the course of five years. 

Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The pods aren’t just for plants; Briscoe said she’s fabricating special habitats to attract the wildlife on campus.

“We’re not only providing a living plant system, but we’re making provisions for birds and bees and other things to build and boost the ecology,” Briscoe said.

To create the best habitats possible, Briscoe said she worked with labs on campus that specialize in bees, birds and lizards. She also coordinated with University Landscape Services to design an efficient watering system for the wall.

Bright said that it’s important to incorporate native plants at UT because local insects don’t eat the St. Augustine and privett that are currently on campus.

“These sorts of native habitats that you can create in urban areas will draw the native insects there, and then those are eaten by birds and other wildlife,” Bright said.

Briscoe said that in addition to adding more green to campus, sensors will collect data on water usage, temperatures and the nature of human interaction with the wall.

A $25,000 grant from the Green Fee Committee funded the wall. The committee uses $5 in student fees per semester to fund sustainability projects.

Karen Blaney, the Office of Sustainability’s program coordinator of operations, said that the living wall project was chosen because of its high visibility to students and the partnerships it created between departments.

“Successful projects really engage with the institution, and they change the institution,” Blaney said.

The wall will be dedicated to Mark Simmons, the former director of the Ecosystem Design Group at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, who was heavily involved in the project but died last August.